tv Charlie Rose WHUT May 20, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am EDT
>> charlie: welcome to the program. tonight, we explore the ideas in the mind of nathan myhrvold with nathan myhrvold. >> for inventions, there isn't people who fund them, there isn't an infrastructure of treat them as being valuable. inventions are like the stepchild in cinderella that isn't treated well even though ultimately it's a source of enormous value. >> charlie: done by lonely men and women in garages, it used to be. >> absolutely. when you say "inventor" to most people, they get an idea either of thomas edison or the crazy guy in the "back to the future" movies. that's what you think of as inventor. for inventors to make progress, they need funding, they need support, they need business expertise to advise them on what to do, and by and large those things are lacking. so what our company does is we
say "we would like to make a business of investing in invention" so we do support inventors to have their crazy idea. sometimes those inventors are professors at universities, sometimes big and small, sometimes the lone guy in the garage. by providing them with a combination of a bunch of services and expertise and some money so that they can get their stuff going, we cause a lot of inventions to occur that wouldn't otherwise. >> charlie: nathan myhrvold for the hour. next. captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose.
>> charlie: nathan myhrvold is here. he's the c.e.o. and founder of intellectual ventures which funds people and buys their inventions and patents, it's among the top 50 research institutions in the world with over a billion dollar in licensing revenue. he said it's in the business of taking ideas and making them less crazy so they might work. among them a fanc that zaps disease-carrying mosquitoes -- disease-carrying mosquitoes with lasers. nuclear plants that run on spent fuel. in a 2008 profile, "the new yorker's" malcolm gladwell described him as nerdy on an epic scale. he began college at 14 and had a ph.d. in physics by age 23. he then spent a year with stvenl hawking. after starting his own company
he joined microsoft, as chief strategist. geology and extraterrestrials. are among his interestses. i am pleased to have nathan myhrvold back at the table. is it that makes a nathan myhrvold? >> i've only been me. >> charlie: the sample is small. >> this is not statistically significant, but i'm very curious about finding things out. and i love the process of trying to understand things. part of that means being confused and not knowing what's going on, then the transition of how you bring things into focus and figure it out and that's true across all the things you do. >> charlie: you start with a question. >> yeah. >> charlie: because you want to know something and you are confused because there is no easy access to the answer. >> exactly. so when i was a physicist, i was interested in the question of where did space and time come
from. >> charlie: right. >> how did the universe begin? what is the basic stage on all other interactions occur which is space in time, what's that really about? so when i worked with stephen hawking, it was all about trying to come up with quantum theories of gravitation which would explain the fundamental nature of space and time. with some of these other ventures, you have a much more focused, more realistic or more practical answer, but it's all about an intellectual question of how can you understand what the problem is? and then, can you do something about it once you understand it? >> charlie: einstein once said if you have the right question you're 95% on your way to the right answer. >> that's often true. i wish i had the right question more of the time, but when we invent things, that's a lot of what we try to do, is to say let's come up with something that really is a good question, and frequently that is how you solve it -- is by posing the question in a way which then admits a whole different set of answers than people had before.
>> charlie: what is intellectual adventures about these days? >> our basic idea is that invention is a valuable activity. a lot of people would say, yeah, of course, invention is valuable. if it's a valuable activity, there ought to be a way for people to invest in it, and essentially anything else valuable in society -- stocks or bonds, picasso paintings, real estate -- all of those things have a very active capital market around them which allows people to invest in them and a whole food chain of sort of service companies that help the mechanisms of commerce work. if there is no way to buy or sell real estate, we wouldn't be in this wonderful building here in new york because there is a whole industry about creating these buildings and so forth. well, for inventions, there isn't people who fund them. there isn't a whole infrastructure of people who treat them as being valuable. inventions are sort of the stepchild, like in "cinderella" that isn't treated very well
even though ultimately it's a source of enormous value. very few -- >> charlie: done by lonely men and women in garages, it used to be. >> absolutely. in fact, when you say "inventor" to most people they get an idea either of thomas edison or the crazy guy in the "back to the future movies." that's what we think of as inventor. for inventors to actually make progress, they need funding. they need support. they need some business expertise to advise them on what to do. by and large, those things are lacking. so what our company does is we say we would like to make a business of investing in invention so we do support inventors to have their crazy idea. sometimes those inventors are professors at universities, sometimes they're companies, big and small, sometimes they are the lone guy in the garage. by providing them with a combination of a bunch of services and expertise and some money so that they can get their stuff going, we cause a lot of inventions to occur that
wouldn't otherwise. >> charlie: how many ideas are your engineers working on at any given time in order to select projects that are worthy of support? >> lots and lotsment >> lots and lots. this is one of those like a funnel, you have to start with lots and lots to get them at the bottom because you drop them off at every stage. we file 500-600 patents every year. that is what makes us one of the 50th largest inventing organizations in the world. >> charlie: that's how they measure it? >> u.s. companies, 25, 50 of all companies in the world, funny because we're a little company in a swamp in bellview. >> charlie: what's the company list like? >> the top on the list is i.b.m., microsoft is right up there, intel is right up there, but our company files as many patents roughly as toyota, as general motors, as a ton of other enormous companies that -- invention is something that most
companies don't support very much. most firms don't have an r&d department that really is funded the way they used to -- >> charlie: do universities? >> universities do some, but the trouble is universities have got two sets of barriers. the first barrier is universities are mostly about doing research, not invention. it's related, but it's actually subtly different, so you can get the nobel prize in any technical field you want without ever inventing something, but you discover something important about the world. that's a different thing. >> charlie: yet on the other hand universities are aware of places like -- it's where google started, at a university. >> google is a good example of an invention by two graduate students, larry and sergei, that occurred at stanford, but most universities don't have much of a budget for invention and they don't have a good way of taking those inventions forward. now, in some cases the inventors themselves go create a company. that's what larry and sergei did. it worked out very well. if the inventors don't do that,
it's tough for them to make money on it, and if they don't make money on it, after a while it's tough for them to keep doing it. >> charlie: so give me some of the hot ideas that you think are worthy of talking about which you are supporting because you believe there is a connect between the idea and a result. >> ok. i'll give you a couple in different areas. we've got a program that's about inventing to help the third world. the technology i have been a part of for many years is about making tools and toys for the world's wealthy. it's great. i don't mean there is anything wrong with it. but computers or ipods are either tools or toys, yet most of humanity lives in horrible conditions compared to you and i, and part of the answer for those people might be new technology, but there is not that many folks that actually spend time and energy to invent there and to create new ideas would help them, so we have a
program -- bill gates supports us in doing that. we work with people at his foundation and at other foundations. >> charlie: what does it do? . we try to find other areas where we -- >> we try to find areas where we can solve a problem. that's how our laser-zapping mosquitoes problem happened. we have a project to make a vaccine container for africa. >> charlie: so the vaccines will remain -- >> good, they don't spoil. turns out a lot of vaccines spoil between the manufacture and getting injected into somebody. >> charlie: the question that it began with is how do we keep these vaccines from not spoiling. >> that's right. there are a couple of different takes. you could say let's make a solar-powered refrigerator. some people have. turns out they're expensive and they break a lot. that's one way. we took a weird way. we've created a vaccine container that can keep the vaccine cold for months with no power whatsoever. >> charlie: how? >> by being really careful about the insulation and by being really clever at how we redefine
the problem. so it turns out that most of these vaccines are stored in ordinary refrigerators. that's great until the power goes out, and in africa, the power goes out a lot. to make the power improve is a big, hard problem. we have a super-insulated container which can keep the vaccine cold for months without power. one of the tricks is we don't let people reach inside. it's built like a coke machine or a vending machine and it dispenses the vial out rather than have someone reach their arm in and open it up and have hot air come in. first having it sealed you can say you can never reach in. how do we get it out? don't worry about that part. we'll figure that out. the outsides of it are made like a cr-- a cryogenic. for this particular invention -- it's not impossible. we could come up with a spinoff of the idea that could make profit but this is one that we
decided to do, we've got a half a dozen others, they're about trying to help people, not about trying to make money on them. >> charlie: so that brings me 21 of the interesting questions about you. intellectual ventures is big because you want to do well by doing good. do you want some spectacular business success? or do you want somehow to be an angel that somehow does something remarkable in terms of leaving the world a better place? >> why do i have to choose, charlie? >> charlie: you don't. >> in particular -- >> charlie: you do not have to choose. >> here is where i really do hope we're financially successful because i want to create an industry called invention capital -- analogous to venture capital. when bill gates needed money to start his company or when larry and sergei needed money to start their company they went to the venture capital. you never heard an appeal in congress to say pass the hat and get more money for
entrepreneurs. the venture capital industry takes that. too much of r&d has been funded on what i call the charity model. you beg for funding for things and then you say "you're never going to get your money back but i promise something good can happen." there is a limit to how much money the world can give you if you are begging for it for charity. if you say "i can make a business model where it's financially successful" it's self-sustaining. so if i can get the invention-capital market bootstrapped as something that's smart money wants to go into, i will have created a source of funding for inventors for the next 100 years and that's something that i can't do if i'm not successful. >> charlie: what is that thing that -- intellectual ventures and the research that it does and how it supports -- how is that different from existing institutions? or is it? >> it's analogous to what you would do in private equity or venture capital but it's based
on invention. if you go to a venture capitalist and say "i have no idea what i want to do but i'm sure i will have an idea, why don't you give me some money," they'll show you the door, by and large. >> charlie: right. >> i woeptd. >> charlie: they won't given -- >> i won't. >> charlie: they won't give you an audience. >> we do that. >> charlie: they come to people -- >> i come to them. >> charlie: really? you go to them? >> usually i come to them because we identify areas we want to go into -- >> charlie: the process begins with you in many instances. >> in almost all of them. >> charlie: you say "there is a problem here. let's go find some smart people who know how to deal with the problem, the question. mosquitoes." >> mosquitoes is a great example. we hate malaria, which means we hate mosquitoes -- most people hate mosquitoes. >> charlie: yeah. >> we say, "what are some really out-of-the-box ways to get rid of mosquitoes? so we attracted a whole set of experts in different technical areas, we get them around a
table and we brainstorm and we come up with lots of entertaining ideas. many of which are really funny but they're not going to work. some of which are very serious but are not going to work either. but a fraction of them, after you run them through a bunch of different hurdles, a fraction of them are really good so those are ones which we take forward. >> charlie: so what kind of person and what kind of core competence and what kind of educational background do you choose as colleagues that help you ask the questions and then go find the person who knows how to find the answer? >> it's a combination of two things. it helps if people have technical training in a bunch of areas. most of our people have a ph.d. in one technical field or another. but we have some people that do this that don't have any degrees at all. they dropped out of high school. because the other part of it is you have to love technology. you have to love problems. you have to be comfortable being
confused and not knowinguar doing. and there is a lot of highly trained professionals that are uncomfortable being outside their comfort zone. >> charlie: yeah, right. >> if you talk about lewis and clark -- sounds so wfrly romantic, lewis and clark had this wonderful -- sounds so wonderfully romantic, lewis and clark were lost. they were chased by bears. a 16-year-old indian girl took them in or they would have died. >> charlie: that proves what? >> you can't be an explorer if you are not willing to get luck in a swamp and get lost. you can't be an inventor unless you are willing to both have people make fun of you, you have to have a thick skin, you have to be willing to blurt out an idea that might seem totally stupid. training and exactitude are what attract some people to a technical field. we need people who have that knowledge but they're also willing to get lost in the swamp. >> charlie: right. >> intellectual swamp, in this case. >> charlie: right. >> but the same kind of idea. >> charlie: so of all the ideas that you have supported, which one excites you the most?
>> well, we have had a couple of ideas about energy which we think is -- of course, a huge problem. >> charlie: is this nuclear we're going to? >> we are going nuclear, we are going nuclear, charlie. >> charlie: i know. visit you and bill gates together? >> bill has been very involved in this fret get-go. >> charlie: tell me about that -- in this from the get-go. >> charlie: tell me about that. >> the idea is straightforward. the world needs a source of low-carbon-emission energy which works 24 hours a dayment today, the kinds of things we have that are low carbon are mostly things like wind and solar and solar doesn't work so well at night and wind doesn't work so well when the wind dies down or when it's too strong, actually, there are ideas like carbon capture and storage where maybe you could take a cold plant and you could capture the stuff. that's something that's still work in progress. nuclear is an attractive thing for that except nuclear plants have some both real and perceived problems.
issues with safety. issue with waste. issue with cost. waif you had a nuclear reactor that could actually -- what if you had a nuclear reactor that could burn waste as fuel? that would solve our waste problem. and you could actually use it at scale. today, nuclear reactors have the problem that if we built enough of them to really satisfy all of our energy needs to switch over to a low-carbon economy, very likely, we would run out of fuel. >> charlie: because? >> because there is not enough uranium in the world. >> charlie: ah. >> it turns out -- actually, not enough of the right kind of uranium. uranium came from nature with a "use by" date. it goes bad. it's got a half-life. >> charlie: right. >> well -- >> charlie: how long is the life? >> it's billions of years, but if we were trying to go to a low-carbon economy two years ago, it would have been straightforward. it would be much better. it turns out, most of the uranium that we would have otherwise used is gone. when you build a conventional
nuclear plant, you have to separate out that uranium called u-235 from the u-238. >> charlie: is that what centrifuges do? >> that is what centrifuges do. in fact, the infrastructure you need to enrich uranium to make a nuclear plant can also be used if you carry the enrichment further to make weapons which is another part of the problem. we have spent a bunch of time and energy coming up with this new kind of nuclear plant which allows us to burn u-238 or even to burn the spent fuel from an existing nuclear plant as fuel. and it's a very challenging project because there is both a bunch of technical issues you have to solve, there is also, frankly, a lot of political and regulatory issues that you have to solve -- the world is nervous about nuclear. we have been nervous in this country about nuclear for 30 years, which is why we haven't built any new plants. >> charlie: on the other hand, france, it provides 80% of their energy capacity. >> and that looks like a very smart thing, these days.
>> charlie: yes, indeed. >> they were ridiculed for it for many years but it turns out to have been very smart. meanwhile, the coal plants that were built in this country, particularly starting in the 1990's when people -- 1980's and 1990's, we turned away from nuclear, we kept building coal, that seemed like it was better for the environment at the time. oops. we didn't know then, at least not enough of us knew well enough then that there were going to be serious climate consequences. >> charlie: is china simply smarter and wiser than we are today about looking to the future and understanding exactly what you are talking about? the commitment of resources to big ideas in order to meet future demands? >> well, china is going through an extraordinary period of economic development. if you look in history, to look at similar examples, the united states in the 19th century is a pretty good one. the united states started the 19th century as an agrarrian society.
we were sort of the -- as an agrarian society. we were sort of the brazil of our era. thomas edison and eli whitney and a hundred other people. >> charlie: henry ford. >> very strange to have an agrarian society. then we industrialized. china is on a similar kind of a path. so yes, china is making some very smart investments in long-term energy. now, china is also building more coal plants than anybody else because they also have an immediate need for that energy. >> charlie: maintain a high level of g.d.p. >> they are riding the tiger on a very challenging set of issues. on one hand, they need to continue their economic growth, which is the fountain of all of their prosperity and the only hope they have to keep being prosperous. at the same time, they need to try to transition to some new energy sources. so i think it's great china is way. there are people who will feel jealous of that -- >> charlie: will they and our
friend tom friedman will argue, will that put them in the driver's seat with respect to the development of future technologies? >> it may. if you make lots of long-term investments and some of them come out well, good for you. that's the way it's supposed to happen. instead of being jealous of the chinese, i would say shame on us for not doing more here. >> charlie: should government be involved in the process? is sort of the big question. >> there is a certain set of problems i can tackle. there's problems that venture capitalists in silicon valley, north coast also involved in our nuclear efforts and tons of very interesting energy things, charles river ventures or other venture firms, it's the kind of problem those guys can solve. there are other problems that because of their long-term nature, because of the risky payout, because of some of the regulatory issues it's difficult for the private industry to do it. so i would like to see more government support at the basic level for lots of energy r&d --
because -- we in the private sector can do some, and i'm trying to do more -- >> charlie: let's assume finding a laser gun to kill mosquitoes. that would be a very valuable role for government to play, would it not? and does your objection have to do with scale? or philosophy? or efficiency? >> the areas where it's best for government to make investments are where you've got a very long-term time scale, longer than the commercial guys want to do, where you have a fair amount of fundamental science or fundamental engineering that needs to be done, where it's not clear who the winners will be. and because america funded those ideas like that in the 1960's and 1970's in computing, that's why we had the whole explosion of the computing industry and enormous prosperity in this country because of that. >> charlie: came out of the pentagon. >> darpa, a whole variety of government programs.
it's hard to say that a private industry should have made those in the 1960's and 1970's. the scale of the investment was wrong, the risk was wrong, no one in their right minds would have done that but once government took it to a certain point silicon valley did jump on it and we did get this wonderful economy. similarly, in energy, i think there is a range of projects where the government is really the most appropriate funding source, and i would like to see more of that. it's tricky because the government doesn't do everything with equal efficiency. there are many examples of government-funded projects that are kind of boondoggles and don't amount to a whole lot. but the government has been very effective in this area. that's why we are have technology so strong in this country versus the rest of the world so i would broadly agree with tom friedman that we need to have more of the basic investments so that the silicon valley 2.0 that occurs in energy is more likely to occur here. at the same time, i don't want to get mad at the chinese for
doing it because it's only smart to do it. and frankly, this is a problem that is so large, that crosses so many borders, we can't just say, "leave it to us americans, the rest of you guys shouldn't do it." that doesn't make any sense either. >> charlie: how much of your time, because you're so good at this, is in pursuit of interests? >> there are two philosophies of life here. one says, "focus on something, get really good at it and spend all your time there." and you know something? that philosophy is right. >> charlie: but not for you. >> i often wish i could be that man, and i have tried to be that man but damn it, i -- i can only do it up to a certain point. so part of the way i have structured my life at intellectual ventures is i spend a huge amount of time at intellectual ventures you but within intellectual ventures i have lots of different things i can do. >> charlie: where does cooking fit into that? you own a restaurant? >> i don't own a restaurant. i have been investors in restaurants. >> charlie: you are well known for knowing where the best food
is in about 50 cities around the world. >> yes. hopefully. >> charlie: sometimes you're wrong but at least you're in search of. >> my big cooking project is i'm writing a cookbook. and to say writing a cookbook is putting a little bit -- it's 2,000 pages long. we have been at it for four years. >> charlie: who is going to buy this? >> god, i hope somebody does. i'm on the business model of you know how you make a small fortune on a cookbook? >> charlie: no. >> you start with a large fortune and you make a cookbook. >> charlie: what about the molecular cooking pioneered by people like thalanfadri and others? >> that's what the book is about. we call it modernist cooking. >> charlie: who is we? the book authors? >> i have a bunch of co-authors on the book. >> charlie: right. >> so -- about 15 people have worked on the book full-time the last three years, maybe about 25 people work on it full-time at the moment -- it's a big
project. 2,000 pages is a big project. >> charlie: the writers of this book are nathan and friends? >> yes. i'm partially writing it, partially producing it, i'm certainly funding it. >> charlie: right. >> so there is a revolution in cooking that's going on right now and that revolution is a bunch of chefs around the world, ferran adria, blumenthal, wiley defrain here in new york city, a whole bunch of people are trying to do new things and there is a spirit in this group of people that's not unlike when the french impressionists challenged classical art in the middle of the 19th century or other groups in art and architecture will sort of strike out as an avant-garde and explore a whole new realm. that doesn't happen very often in cooking and i have been lucky to be a part of that both as a diner, as a customer consuming all of those things. >> charlie: yeah. >> and now as a participant
because i've got a background in science. science is an inspiration for this kind of cooking. the theme of this 2,000-page book is how we apply science to understand cooking, and how all of these new techniques have evolved over the course of the last 20 years. >> charlie: what's the best meal you have ever had? >> all my chef friends will get mad at this. >> charlie: i know. >> the most surprising meals i have had are at some of these modernist restaurants. >> charlie: really? >> absolutely. >> charlie: why was it? >> because part of the idea here is to make -- of these modernist cuisine is to make you think about food in a different way. to do things that are surprising and unusual. it's food as poetry. it's food as something that's provocative in an intellectual sense. one of the ways you achieve that is by doing surprising, interesting things that should be impossible. but if you figure out how to do
it. so if you have dinner at abouli. ferran adria's restaurant. >> charlie: out of barcelona. >> stuff that may not look like food at all yet at the same time it can be incredibly simple, yet there is always an underlying brilliance in that simplicity. if you go to heston blumenthal's restaurant, the fat duck in the u.k., it's totally different -- it's a totally different way -- as different as cezanne would be from renoir or any of the other painters who were part of that revolution. so it's by experiencing these new foods in new ways that really excites me. that said, i have also competed in the world championship of barbecue, and i love barbecue. so i love a lot of down-home tradition -- >> charlie: how do you compete in the world champion of barbecue? >> in this case, i was a guy -- john willingham, who runs a very
successful team let me on the team back in the early 1990's. and by god, we actually won one of the years i worked with him. >> charlie: this is -- i'm going back to a piece that was done on you in "the new yorker" magazine by the great malcolm gladwell, and he said "his front garden is planted entirely with vegetation from the mesozoic era, if the "jurassic park" thing happens this is where the dinosaurs will come to eat." he wrote proving that it was theoretically possible for sauropods, his favorite kind of dinosaur to have snapped their tails back and forth faster than the speed of sound. >> so a bullwhip, you crack a bullwhip or a whet towel you snap in a locker room, that snap -- or a wet towel you snap in a locker room, that cracking noise is the tip of the whip exceeding the speed of sound creating a shock wave, and we say speed of
sound, shock wave, people think of an f-16 or the concorde, but in fact, with a simple bullwhip you can crack the sound barrier. there are dinosaurs, diplodydikus, a long, skinny tail, the tail starts off a meter in diameter, it ends up the thickness of your thumb and it's this huge long thing, if you walk in the museum of natural history in the rotunda you will see a mounted dinosaur that has one of these long, whippy tails. what was that tail for? >> charlie: i don't know. >> it turns out nobody knows and people came up with a whole bunch of ideas, but we -- phil currie and i went through this systematic process, thinking of every possible thing the tail might be for. some people say it was for
defense. the end of this thing is this big around. literally. it's the size of a thumb. what the hell is that going to do against something that's a hundred-foot-long dinosaur which is what these animals were? and any animal that would threaten them -- plus we have a whole bunch of the bones which again are the size of your thumb. none have ever been found broken. meanwhile, you have another set of dinosaurs that had tail clubs or had spikes on their tails like a medieval mace. those things are clearly weapons. and they're busted up because they used them. we went through a process and did computer simulations to prove that those tails are almost perfectly designed to be bullwhips -- that in fact, if you did a shake-your-booty kind of move with the back of one of these dinosaurs you would get a wave going down the thing which would crack at the end and make a giant sonic boom. here is the other it interesting thing. about half of the specimens of
dinosaurs have some bones in the middle that are fused. and a human osteopathic surgeon looked at these and identified this as a condition that occurs in humans and lots of other animals when you have overuse of a section of a bone, you get this special stiffening. and this happens with people with fused vertebrae in their backs. in biology, when you have 50%, you think, "maybe that's gender" so our best idea is these dinosaurs used their tails to make sonic booms to get a date. >> charlie: more power to those dinosaurs. >> and the males cracked their tails so damn much they wore the bones out, and if that isn't male behavior, i don't know what is. >> charlie: was there a connection between that interest of yours and archaeology? >> there is -- there is parts of science that are about theory. what i used to do with stephen
hawking is about theories. theoretically explaining things. there are other things about discovery. when you do dinosaur paleonology, you go out with a camping -- peleontology. it's camping with a purpose. i like happening that mix. to go back to your earlier question, i have never been able to stick to the straight and narrow to focus only on one thing. i have -- i get interested in lots of stuff and i have tried to find a way to make that work for me rather than hold me back. maybe it has held me back. >> charlie: i don't think we worry about what nathan might have done with his life. but did you know this early on, that this is the kind of life you would have? >> so according to my mom, when i was two i said i was going to be a scientist. >> charlie: oh. >> and certainly i have said that all the time since then.
when i was a kid i saw an episode of "doctor who," this british science fiction thing and there is a scene from one of the early "doctor whos" where someone says, "doctor, are you some kind of scientist?" and he replies, "sir, i am every kind of scientist." i thought, "god, that is so cool, that's what i want to be." >> charlie: be dr. who. >> i want to be every kind of scientist and, of course, you can't but i found a way to dabble and kibitz and be involved in a whole bunch of different things. >> charlie: scientific life is a life of asking questions and you are an adventurer in search of answers to questions that interest you. >> and sometimes you find those answers. when you do, it's really cool. >> charlie: what is your answer to the search for life beyond us? >> i have been involved with the seti institute for many years. >> charlie: they do sort of big
-- >> radio telescopes. listen for a signal. >> charlie: right. >> so here is the interesting thing. we only have one data point for life, which is life on earth. >> charlie: right. >> if you go through a bunch of reasoned scientific arguments, it's very hard to believe that this is the only place life would occur. it's not impossible it's the only place, but the probabilities would suggest there is probable life some other place. why should it only be here? >> charlie: lots of people have made that argument. isn't it arrogant for us to believe that we're the only people? >> so let's start there. if that's true, then maybe we ought to look and find if there is intellectual life any other place. >> charlie: is there any way to quantify how long it will take for these two societies to find each other? >> no. in fact, that's one of the interesting things. jill tarter, who runs the seti institute. >> charlie: riechlt >> did a calculation on their search strategies and she was
very excited. she said, "i think we have an excellent probability of success within the next thousand years." it's one of the things i love about jill and the people there. there is a long-term commitment you don't find many places. if you told people this will work within 1,000 years but not only you but the next 10 generations of your family may not see it? it's tough, but if you don't look you condition find. >> charlie: the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. >> we're so ignorant about what other life may be like that it's very likely we're listening in the wrong ways and so on and so forth. i still think it's an important thing for our society to try to understand. >> charlie: and what does your friend stephen hawking think -- your former colleague? >> stephen was recently quoted as saying he would be pretty scared to have us meet an advanced society because the history on earth is that when an advanced society met a society that had a technological
disadvantage, jerrod diamond -- >> charlie: right. >> "guns, germs and steel" it turns out when the guys who had guns, germs and steel met the guys that didn't. >> charlie: they won. >> yeah. stephen's point is if we ran into an alien society vastly more advanced to us they would have such a superiority to us we might be at a huge disadvantage. others say, "no, if these aliens are are so smart they're going to have a prime directive like "star trek," they're going to treat us like pets or test subjects, they're going to be nice and ethical to us, look how much more ethical we have become over the years. we still kind of suck but we're a whole lot more ethical than we were 100 or 1,000 years ago. who the hell knows? currently, with ourngd of current physics -- i want to emphasize current -- so far as we know, even if we detected a signal from another planet, there is no way that they could come here.
so far as we know, there is no way to have warp drives, or the things that science fiction has, to get people across the galaxy. now, it's entirely possible there is physics of which -- i know for a fact there is physics we aren't aware of and maybe, just maybe there is a way to have a warp drive. who knows. >> charlie: you know for a fact there is physics we're not aware of. >> of course. >> charlie: what does that mean? >> there are problems in physics you know we don't have an answer to. >> charlie: but there is an answer. >> if you are a scientist, you believe there must be an answer. it's part of the arrogance of science to believe two things. first of all, that nature has a rhyme and reason. and second that we might be able to figure it out. but by god, in the last 500 years we've made a hell of a lot of progress at figuring out both how nature works and so far there has never been an insurmountable issue. at the moment there is a nearly insurmountable one which is why people have built this fabulous
machine in switzerland, the large hadron collider which is doing these partical physics experiments because we're trying to figure out the next step in physics. >> charlie: we're trying to figure out what was the first moment after the big bang, what was the first moment that we don't know? >> we're trying to do with experiments largely part because in theory we don't know what to do. when i was in graduate school at princeton in the 1980's -- early 1980's, the last pieces of what's called the standard model came into play. and that was what's called quantum cromodynamics and quashings and our standard model of how -- and quarks and we know it doesn't work because it doesn't include gravity and it's not fully integrated with the other forces, so you have this strong notion that there is something missing. there are two ways science
progresses. one is by brilliant people having deep thoughts -- einstein is a great example of that. his theory of relativity was this incredibly brilliant thing that kind of came out of left field. there have been other people like that in history -- newton. or you get inspired by experiment. so the hope of l.h.c. is that it will show us some physics can gives us a clue as to what happens beyond that standard model and that will help us with these questions. or maybe it won't. >> charlie: the early evidence, we ought to be getting to know because the experiments are under way. >> the experiments are under way. >> charlie: and successful at first glance -- after a series of trouble -- problems -- a month ago, they had a -- >> these machines are very complicated. it always takes time. >> charlie: colliding protons -- >> the machine is working, up at reasonable velocities and luminosities and they should be taking statistics. here is what you don't know. that machine has a range of
values that it can produce. if the cool new physics is in that range of energy values, then we will find it. if cool new physics is just outside that window, we may not find it. one of the great questions with particle physics is exactly what will l.h.c. find? will it find something called the higgs boson? it ought to. >> charlie: a theory. >> a particle theorized by a physicist called higgs, the higgs boson, essentially how everything has mass -- it's like the key to all of mass which is a pretty fundamental question. >> charlie: but the expectation is they will confirm that. is it not? >> yes. but it's only an expectation, charlie, and the reason you do an experiment is because sometimes, nature says, "ah ah ah, what you expected is not true at all." >> charlie: what is the question
you would most like to know the answer to? >> charlie munger, who works with warren buffett, when asked that question, likes to say "he wants to know where he can die so he can make a note of never going there." i would like to know where space and time comes from. that's probably the biggest intellectual challenge. that's what i worked on when i was a physicist. >> charlie: so the question is, where does time and space come from? >> where does space and time come from? what is the quantum theory of space and time? >> charlie: are there possibilities? >> there are a bunch of possibilities, some i came up with before i wound up leaving physics, and a bunch of ideas people have had since then. >> charlie: suppose we know that. what does it do for us? >> it tells us one of the grandest, most interesting things in all of physics. but it's a purely intellectual endeavor.
time? and also, did they care? were they curious enough to do that? or did they spend all of their time only doing pragmatic things? i have always been attracted to those even though i love ideas that make money and make people's lives better and do important things. >> charlie: what's influenced you the most, do you think? let's give family credit, ok? >> my mother, of course. my mother went to extraordinary sacrifice so that both my brother and i could have a great education -- >> charlie: she recognized? or she loved you? >> she put up with a lot, let me tell you. i was always making these science experiments and blowing things up in the backyard. >> charlie: how much like your
brother are you? >> a lot alike and a lot not alike. >> charlie: what's his profession? >> he's a venture capital i felt. he was at my company that i formed, then he was a senior executive for microsoft for many years, parallels like me but different in a bunch of ways. >> charlie: what is your sense of religion and spiritual being? >> not. it's -- >> charlie: not? >> there is a bunch of wonderful stories that people tell themselves and each other that they take as a matter of faith rather than evidence -- i'm not saying it's bad, and they get a tremendous amount of comfort from it. i like things that can be proven and i worry about things where i might be believing exactly what i would like to hear. so it would be wonderful if, after we die here, we go to a
much better place, just like it would be wonderful if we were the most important things in the world, but in the past we thought we were really important. we discovered afterwards we weren't. as a result, i am much more focused on things that i can understand in a scientific way which kind of -- lets faith out of it. >> charlie: you think religion has been more of an opiate? >> there are famous people smarter than i who have said lots of things in lots of different ways. religion is so omnipresent in human societies, all over the world -- >> charlie: and could play a positive role? >> it clearly is something that's built into us at some level. >> charlie: and if it directs you toward some sense of a moral code, then more power to it? >> absolutely. but also, throughout history a lot of people would make the point that religion has also killed a whole lot of folks because there is that unfortunate yin yang. >> charlie: where are we in terms of the digital revolution? >> i have -- every time i have
been here, charlie, i have told us that it's -- told you that it's only just beginning. >> charlie: why do i ask the damn question every time? i think you're going to tell me the right answer at some point. >> when i told you that 10 years ago, i was right, it was just the beginning. >> charlie: right. true. >> it's still only just beginning now because there is so much potential for us to use digital technology to make our lives both more fun and more productive. >> charlie: right. and clearly that's happening. it's everywhere around us. >> and with every new set of things, whether it's tablet computers or digital books like the kindle or these other things, they're all brand new things which allow us to make our lives that much better, and at the moment if you look at the fundamental technology of where we're going with the capability of computers, there is a lot more scope for that, but while i was waiting to come in had room you were interviewing a bunch of neurobiologists and they were talking about understanding the brain. as soon as we really understand the brain, ooh, boy, then we can -- then we have something --
>> charlie: then we can develop a computer model. way better. is that the idea? >> by understanding intelligence, we can make way better computers. yes. >> charlie: is that artificial intelligence? >> it's funny. artificial intelligence has gone through this period where it was an artificial buzzword that everybody wanted to use, then it got discredited and nobody wanted to use it. we don't know the fundamental architecture of cognition. that's what these guys are saying. they can take memory cells apart, they can do other stuff, they can figure but it's very much like taking a computer and smashing it with the hammer and say, "look, i figured out this one little piece" but we don't have the big picture. we are some number of miraculous discoveries away from getting the big picture, and i don't know if that's one or 10 but within the course of the next 50 years, and maybe tonight, maybe tonight there is someone having the right idea somewhere -- when we cross these thresholds,
wonderful things happen. right now with molecular biology, wonderful things are happening in the creation of new drugs and new therapies. not as quickly as we would all like, but wonderful things are happening. in the brain, it's we're hoping wonderful things will happen. they will. it is great, but it's not -- it's not useful yet, but it will be. >> charlie: and you have found the place, the challenge, the opportunity, the whatever to live a happy life because happiness has also become a subject of great curiosity. >> well, yes, i am happy. i have a general sunny disposition. i used to work for stephen hawking, and one of the things about working for stephen hawking is it's really hard to feel sorry for yourself because here is a man who has extraordinary physical challenges brought on by this disease and yet he has a great personality and he has a great human spirit, and you start feeling sorry for yourself, "i've got the use of my body."
>> charlie: exactly right. >> and we are incredibly lucky to -- those of us who are able to pursue our passions and to have jobs that we like, yes, i am incredibly lucky. doesn't mean there aren't challenges, doesn't mean there aren't days that, "damn it, i wish i was smarter about stuff." >> charlie: is there any one thing you most want to achieve? >> well, there was figuring out that fundamental structure of space and time. >> charlie: that's the big one, that's right. you listen to the guys in my episode eight of the brain series, jodalon said to one question, is there a theory of the brain, how it all somehow -- einstein was interested in the theory of everything. >> i think there is going to be a theory of the brain. >> charlie: riechlt >> the problem is the brane was created -- >> charlie: right. >> the problem is the brain was created by a haphazard process over a long period of time. if we understand what happens at
the level of the worms or drosophila, that might give us insight because there is not that much evolutionary time but it was a weird hack job, it may take a while to reverse engineer it. >> charlie: which is sort of -- it's the nature of evolution. >> whereas in physics it turns out that a lot of things have in retrospect been very easy. when i was first a graduate student at princeton there was a noble prize winner named eugene vigner and he wrote this essay about the unness of mathematics. his question -- unreasonableness of mathematics. how did things work so well? we know now that there are parts of physics and parts of the world where equations have a difficulty working. many of the things called fraktales or deterministic chaos, equations that ought -- called fractals or deterministic
chaos, we have been able to understand with simple ideas whereas evolution is convoluted. when systems biologists and molecular biologists try to reverse engineer all the pathways by which genes act to create organisms, it's really complicated stuff because there was no master designer. there was no logical design. it kind of happened in a haphazard way. so it's harder, but it's also finite. >> charlie: great to have you here. >> ok. >> charlie: mipleasure. nathan myhrvold for the hour. thank you for -- >> charlie: my pleasure. nathan myhrvold for the hour. the brain series is about the most exciting scientific journey of our time. understanding the brain. >> charlie: tell me about negative emotions. >> emotions can be categorized
along the axis of pleasant vs. unpleasant which is sometimes called the valance of the emotion and how arousing are they so you can have a negative emotion which is highly arousing like rage and a negative emotion which is a low level of arousal like sadness and today we're going to focus mainly on those negative emotions that have a high level of arousal associated with them like fear and aggression or anger. now, these are very old and powerful emotions. they're essential for the survival of animal species. and arguably, they have a stronger influence on us perhaps in our day to day lives than the positive emotions. it's often said that bad news sells more newspapers than good news. perhaps that is related to that in some way. ♪ ♪